National Tequila Day is celebrated annually on July 24. Tequila is a wonderfully diverse spirit—and one that has been delighting North Americans for more than four centuries.
When Spanish conquistadors arrived in North America in the 16th century, they brought their own brandy with them. They soon ran out, however, and turned to a local fermented drink called “pulque”—a beverage made from local agave plants—to satiate their thirst. They weren’t crazy about pulque on its own, so they distilled the pulque through copper stills. In doing so, they created one of North America’s first distilled spirits, and named it for the nearby city of Tequila.
By 1600, the first tequila factory was in operation. Shortly thereafter, Spain’s King Carlos IV granted the first license to commercially manufacture tequila to the Cuervo family. In the late 1800s, Don Cenobio Sauza, the founder of Sauza Tequila, began exporting tequila to the United States.
Like champagne, tequila may only be called “tequila” if it’s produced in the State of Jalisco, according to certain rules of The Tequila Regulatory Council of Mexico.
The process by which tequila is made hasn’t changed much since the 1600s. Blue agave plants, which thrive in Jalisco’s sandy soil, are carefully tended by jimadores—workers who oversee the plants as they mature, and they harvest them at peak ripeness. The plants’ outer leaves are removed, leaving a piña—the core, or heart, of the agave plant. The piñas are then based in ovens or earthen pits, and then mashed using a large stone wheel, or tahona. The extracted juice ferments in large wooden or stainless steel vats, and is then double-distilled for a clear or “silver” tequila. The tequila may be sold in this form, or aged in wooden barrels to create mellower, amber-hued spirits ranging from joven (young), to reposado (aged), to añejo (extra aged) to extra añejo (ultra-aged).
In addition to the differences of tequila’s five primary types, there are noticeable differences in the flavor of tequila, depending on where the agave plants are grown. Plants from the Jalisco highlands yield a sweeter tequila, while lowland agaves tend to have earthier and more herbal aromas and flavors.
These subtle differences make tequila enjoyable on its own, but also as a spirit that can be used in endless cocktail combinations—from the ever-popular Margarita, Paloma or Tequila Sunrise to contemporary inventions like the Tequila Mockingbird or El Anticuado—a tequila-infused riff on the classic Old Fashioned.
No matter how you choose to enjoy this versatile spirit, raise a glass to one of North America’s first—and most beloved—liquors on National Tequila Day!
National Tequila Day is typically celebrated